A few years back, I was preparing to visit my parents for the Thanksgiving holiday. They were hosting a large party of about 30 people and, as usual, they paid to fly me home so that I could do the cleaning and cooking. I confided in my college roommate that I was more than typically nervous about this party because several generals would be in attendance, including a four star.
“Standingoutinmyfield,” she said, almost sternly, “The general puts his pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us.” (She meant pants like trousers, not pants like underwear, British friends.)
It takes a long time to cook for 30 people, but in the end the party ended up going pretty smoothly, except for the after dinner walk.
It’s a tradition for us to go for a walk after dinner is complete, even if we’re dressed nicely. I was uncomfortable in the unfamiliar clothes, the starched sleeves and scratchy collar of my shirt, and the restrictive shoes I was wearing on my normally unconstrained feet. It was very crisp that afternoon; the grass was crunchy with frost. I had one eye on the general’s shoes, which were polished to a high sheen that reflected the dim November sun.
Everything was silent and dignified until BANG! Everyone jumped at the sound of the explosion. The general had unknowingly stepped on one of the green bell peppers that had fallen among the leaves at the end of the season, and, frozen solid, it had exploded audibly.
Because I had been watching his shoes, for a few seconds I was the only one who understood what had happened. And, being me, I was laughing uncontrollably. I could feel everyone’s bewildered eyes on me, but the stress of the day and the hilarity of the situation overwhelmed me, and I couldn’t stop, even when I was doubled over with tears streaming down my face.
To this day I could not explain to you why that was so funny in that moment. It was something about the universe poking fun at our dignity, making a farce out of a formal event. And it was just a moment. Everyone moved on and forgot about it (and hopefully forgot about my indiscretion). But I remembered, and I remembered what my friend told me.
Now when I meet famous people, I tell myself they put their pants on one leg at a time, just like everybody else. We’re all human, in the end.